Unfortunately we have had to run this image previously on Wildfire Today when we pointed out examples of the U.S. Forest Service flagrantly violating the Open Government Initiative established by President Obama.
The latest occurrence is the agency’s refusal to fully cooperate with the investigations into the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona on June 30. The U.S. Forest Service provided so little information that it was described as “useless” by one of the investigation teams, short-circuiting an opportunity to learn lessons that may prevent future tragedies. They supplied heavily redacted documents and would not allow a hotshot crew that was working nearby during the accident to be interviewed. The agency cited the Privacy Act of 1974 as the reason for their intransigence. In the hundreds of investigation reports of serious accidents that have been completed over the last 80 years, I don’t recall any others in which the USFS refused to allow their employees to be interviewed due to the Privacy Act of 1974 or other similar concerns.
At Fire Aviation we first asked for a list of Type 1 helicopters that were on exclusive use contracts on April 16, 2013, hoping to receive it well before the western wildfire season got underway. We were told that the list was only available if we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which we did. After many delays, uncountable emails, excuses, and receiving incorrect information, we finally got it on September 26, five months after asking for it. Federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days. In this case it took 167 days including weekends.
The USFS refused to release the $840,092 RAND air tanker study even after we filed a Freedom of Information Act Request. The agency told Wildfire Today “…the report is proprietary and confidential RAND business information and must be withheld in entirety under FOIA Exemption 4″. Finally RAND released it two years after it was completed, but as far as we know the USFS never did. Somehow the USFS concluded that Exemption 4 did not apply to the other air tanker studies that have been completed, some of which were also done under contracts to private companies.